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Metal for Life: How to Use the Dark Sound of the the Phrygian Mode’s “Flatted” Intervals

The following content is related to the September 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue.

In this month’s column, I’d like to continue our investigation of the fundamental modes with a look at the Phrygian mode. The Phrygian mode is often referred to as the “third mode” because—starting from the major scale, which is the “mother,” or “parent,” scale to the seven fundamental modes and is itself considered the first mode—Phrygian is the third mode in the series, as it is based upon the third scale degree of the major scale.

If we start with a major scale in the key of C, the notes are C D E F G A B. Intervallically, this is spelled: one (root), maj2 (major second), maj3 (major third), 4 (perfect fourth), 5 (perfect fifth), maj6 (major sixth), maj7 (major seventh). If we start from the third note of C major, E, and proceed through the same note series to an E note one octave higher, we get E F G A B C D.

This is the E Phrygian mode, spelled: one (root), f2 (minor, or “flatted,” second), f3 (flatted third), 4, 5, f6 (flatted sixth), f7 (flatted seventh). As you can see, four of the seven scale degrees—f2, f3, f6 and f7—are flatted intervals. These yield a dark, foreboding sound that is perfect for heavy-metal riffs and solos.

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